Following his best game of the season thus far, Grant Williams made a rare appearance in the Celtics press room after Boston’s 132-125 win over Toronto. Williams was his usual talkative self, as he answered questions ranging from his own battle for minutes to how he’s been working on his game this season.
“That’s the benefit of having such a talented team that we have. Sometimes you’re out of the rotation, but you have to be there in support of others, and the guys were there in support of me tonight.”
During his rookie season, Williams missed three games due to DNP-CD’s. In the first half of the current season, Williams has already sat out seven. With minutes as inconsistent as his on-court product, there’s no clear projection on how Williams fits this current roster or where his best position is.
But against the Toronto Raptors last night, Williams put all those existential questions to the side, opting to take advantage of his short-handed opponents in and more importantly, meaningful playing time after just seeing six minutes in Boston’s homestand.
A keyword when discussing “tweeners” is versatility—if you’re too big for a wing and too small for a big, then you have to be adaptable and diverse in your offensive approach. Take a quick look at the Tennessee products shot profile from this game, and you see a second-year player proving they’re more than a spot-up corner guy.
“I think I was in my own head in the beginning (of the season), and wasn’t working as hard as I could have been. Next thing you know, I flipped the mantra and got back to how I’ve worked my whole life, and I think it’s paid off, whether it be my three-point shooting or my defense, and I think it’s paid off.”
We’re starting to see a more diversified shot profile from the second year big. Against Toronto, the most impressive shot came as Williams stepping into a three-point opportunity following a Payton Pritchard offensive board.
Want to prove you’re more than a spot-up shooter? Then hit a three in motion. Grant steps into this shot, sets his feet, then fires away with confidence. Is this possession indicative of what Williams could do against a hard close out? Nope. Is it a sign that he’s able to hurt teams as a DHO or pick-and-pop threat? You bet it is.
Here’s the funny thing that’s been bothering me. Throughout the preseason, Brad Stevens placed Williams in an Al-Horford-esque role. The second-year tweener ran DHO’s above the break and then either popped or rolled to generate a defensive rotation. Once the regular season rolled around, he was back to restricted spot-up shots.
If Stevens isn’t using Williams in that Horford role, finding a way to excel in the corners like the play below is imperative. Seeing him figure out how to maximize his potential from the corner will be an enormous plus for him. We know he’s never going to be a star offensive player and doesn’t have the size to utilize his post-play the same way he did in college.
Ideally, you don’t want Jayson Tatum attacking baseline in the half-court; you would rather have him work downhill or from the post. Williams recognizes this, initiates the hand-off action, hits the screen, and then pops to the corner for an open pop-up shot.
When a player has Tatum’s scoring gravity, it’s a safe bet that both defenders will stick with him as he comes off a screen. By allowing Tatum to drag the defenders out of position, you’re creating space for an effortless look or room to attack close-outs if help defense rotates over. Not a sexy play but a good indicator of basketball IQ.
Despite Williams efficient scoring outburst—he was 3-of-4 from deep, and 7-of-9 overall—questions still loom over his defense, an area that was previously a strength.
Plays such as this one, where Williams loses focus on his man, allowing a back-cut as a result, have riddled his defensive possessions this season. At first glance, it looks like Williams is doing all the right things.
Operating as the low man, Williams is in a position to help on the drive or tag a rolling big. Still, another aspect of providing help defense is to be aware of your initial assignment, which was Chris Boucher in this instance.
A back-cut from Boucher lead to an easy scoring opportunity around the rim. In fairness, this possession isn’t totally on Williams, as there was missed communication on the initial drive, but plays like this have crept into his game with regularity this year.
Granted, there were also multiple defensive plays where Williams looked good, specifically ones where he was able to keep his man in front of him throughout the possession. Only when Williams is beaten on the initial offensive action, do the fouls or rotational breakdowns occur.
Herein lies one of Stevens’ biggest conundrums.
The chemistry and malleability of Williams’ skillset makes him both an interesting candidate for more playing time and yet, his mastery of nothing has seemingly knocked him out of the rotation. After his 17-point and 4-rebound performance, Williams spoke highly of Kemba Walker’s guidance as he navigates his rocky sophomore season.
“As a leader, he’s been very communicative, not only just for me being in and out of the rotation, telling me to keep my head up, to keep engaged, and stay ready. As a person, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m just thankful to have him around.”
With playing time not guaranteed for Williams, having leaders like Walker and Tatum in his corner will be invaluable as the team enters the second half of the truncated season - primarily due to the struggles he’s had on the defensive end of the floor in recent months.
Williams provided a substantial account of himself, flashed improved offensive awareness, and for the most part, played cohesively on defense. The question now: was this one performance enough to earn back Brad Stevens’ trust and find himself playing consistent minutes again after the All-Star break?